The Swarm satellites offer an unprecedented opportunity for improving our knowledge about polar cap patches, which are regarded as the main space weather issue in the polar caps. We present a new robust algorithm that automatically detects polar cap patches using in situ plasma density data from Swarm. For both hemispheres, we compute the spatial and seasonal distributions of the patches identified separately by Swarm A and Swarm B between December 2013 and August 2016. We show a clear seasonal dependency of patch occurrence. In the Northern Hemisphere (NH), patches are essentially a winter phenomenon, as their occurrence rate is enhanced during local winter and very low during local summer. Although not as pronounced as in the NH, the same pattern is seen for the Southern Hemisphere (SH). Furthermore, the rate of polar cap patch detection is generally higher in the SH than in the NH, especially on the dayside at about 77° magnetic latitude. Additionally, we show that in the NH the number of patches is higher in the postnoon and prenoon sectors for interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) By<0 and IMF By>0, respectively, and that this trend is mirrored in the SH, consistent with the ionospheric flow convection. Overall, our results confirm previous studies in the NH, shed more light regarding the SH, and provide further insight into polar cap patch climatology. Along with this algorithm, we provide a large data set of patches automatically detected with in situ measurements, which opens new horizons in studies of polar cap phenomena.
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